So this is what hope looks like.
The thought ran through my mind as I scrolled through people.com, my favorite source for celebrity gossip. I expected to find the latest Oscar news and probably the latest shenanigan from Kim and Kanye. I didn't expect to meet hope in a photo of Kesha, but there she was, laughing on the beach, “IMA SURVIVOR” emblazoned on her sweatshirt.
For those of you not up to date on your Kesha news (or, the artist-formerly-known-as-Ke$ha news), the pop singer recently entered rehab for an eating disorder. This carefree photo of her celebrating her recovery on the beach was a message to the world that she was healthy again—she is a survivor.
So what's the big deal? Plenty of celebrities go to rehab. Why is her story worth noting?
That Kesha went to rehab is not the story here. The story is that Kesha went to rehab, and the media celebrated with her for getting healthy. She is a reminder that there is hope for those whose lives are spiraling out of control.
If you asked me to tell you how many people in my church or Christian communities I know who have gone through addiction or struggle with mental illness, I could probably list them on one hand. Ask me to name a celebrity, and I could give you a lengthy list of those who have dealt with everything from bipolar disorder and depression to bulimia and anorexia to drug and alcohol addictions.
We don't know how to handle broken people in the Church. Yes, we preach from our pulpits that the Church is a hospital for the sick and not a country club for the healthy. Too often, though, our response to mental illness and addiction suggests the exact opposite. We usually only learn someone's story once they've recovered instead of standing right there with them as they struggle through it.
Everyone has the right to privacy as they seek treatment but no one should feel they have to keep their mess a secret for fear of being shamed and rejected. It breaks my heart to know families and individuals who slowly leave their churches when things get messy in their lives. They fear the whispers in the hallways and the awkward silences.
Jesus never said “Come to me all you who have cleaned yourselves off and put your life in order.” He beckoned us to come as we are, weary and heavy-laden.
No one recovers on his or her own. Recovery happens in community, and we should long for the Church to provide that sense of community. Instead, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are thriving because of their honest, judgment-free environments. These groups provide a safe space for members to encourage one another on the good days and support each other on the bad.
In her memoir Traveling Mercies, author Anne Lamott shares story after story about her battles with drug addiction, alcoholism and bulimia. Each time she tried to fix herself, to make herself stop drinking or eat without purging, she failed. Finally, with the help of professionals she was able to get her life back. Her church family was there with her every step of the way, taking her calls when she needed to fight the withdrawals with distraction.
Reflecting on these experiences she writes, “And that is why I have stayed so close to [my church]—because no matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church and their tawny voices, I can always find my way home.”
The Church is a place that shines the light that people living in darkness need to find their way back home. We are called to hold each other accountable and acknowledge sin, but we can't stop there. If we let people drown in the oceans of guilt and shame they swim in, they will never experience true freedom from the chains that bind them.
Christ meets us and loves us where we are but he doesn't leave us there. He walks with us into a transformed way of living. It's time to break the silence and talk about what it means to bear one another's burdens through the recovery process. It's time we cried with each other in the pain and celebrated each small step closer to freedom.
This is what hope looks like.
Rachel Freeny is a recent graduate of Samford University with a degree in Journalism/Mass Communication. Originally from Nashville, she is a first year student on the Global Christianity track at McAfee. Rachel is excited to be a part of the Tableaux team because she loves to tell stories that matter. When she's not studying, she enjoys exploring and eating her way through the South.